Barclays and the Effect of Sponsorship

This piece appeared on the UK site Mediatel earlier this week

It has been reported in the UK press that Barclays are ‘likely’ to cancel their sponsorship of football’s Premier League – an association that goes back 13 years, at a cost of something like £40million a season. A final decision has yet to be taken, we read, but ‘Board members’ believe that the sponsorship has delivered ‘zero value’. ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ reported: ‘One (senior figure) said that Barclays did not need promotion in the UK as the bank has high street branches around the country and its name is well known. “We just need to shut up for five years and get on with our job,” the source said’.

I have no inside knowledge of this sponsorship (and I’m not a football fan) but it does seem unlikely that it has delivered literally ‘zero value’. Every report during the season, in every medium references the Barclays Premier League so it would indeed be very strange if after all these years the average punter didn’t associate top level football with Barclays. Whether that is a positive association or not is another matter but surely there must have been an effect of some sort.

And, if there hasn’t been – how come it’s taken Barclays 13 years to work that out?

It would be easy to imagine the analytics behind these anonymous ‘Board members’ statements. Have they consulted with the best marketing scientists? Have the bank’s numerous media, advertising, PR, sponsorship and research agencies conducted the sort of rigorous and thorough analyses that one would hope they would have, given the level of investment involved? Maybe they have; and maybe there is someone at Barclays beavering away under mounds of spreadsheets to arrive at the ‘zero value’ conclusion.

But I would be prepared to bet that that isn’t the case – or, if it is that these ‘Board members’ haven’t given any such analyses a second glance even if they’re aware of them, which they almost certainly aren’t. After all, ‘Barclays don’t need promotion as (their) name is well known’.

As with Barclays’ sponsorship of the so-called Boris bikes scheme in central London (also cancelled), the Premier League association is being portrayed as a vanity project that can be laid at the door of previous managements. A sort-of reverse ‘Chairman’s wife’ syndrome would seem to be at work – ‘we must cancel that as the last lot liked it’. After all, it’s easy to justify saving money – especially if it’s on what no doubt the Barclays Board would label an unaccountable activity like marketing.

This all makes our industry look more than a little foolish. Aren’t we supposed to be really good at searching out relevant and appropriately valuable properties for our clients to associate themselves with? Aren’t we all about setting business objectives and KPI’s for the expenditure committed to these projects? Don’t we, as part of our role report back at the end of each contract cycle (indeed almost certainly more frequently) on what’s been achieved, and whether or not whatever it is should be renewed/repeated? Aren’t we all about business partnerships and adding value (beyond ‘making the brand well known’)? Or are we really in the post-rationalisation business (‘quick; the CEO’s committed us to sponsoring the Premier League; find some data that make this look like the best idea under the sun!’)

Furthermore, aren’t the client’s marketing teams responsible for keeping the Board informed as to how the organisation’s money is being spent? Shouldn’t everyone, up and down the organisation understand and appreciate the benefit from this expenditure and these associations?

It would seem the answers to these questions are no, no and no.

Or, could it perhaps be that the Barclays’ Board couldn’t give a fig for the true value delivered by marketing activities and is more concerned with stopping anything that could be seen as ‘unjustifiable’ (whatever that means) or too closely associated with a free-spending past.

Perish the thought!

  1. Barclays in SA sponsored a Box at one of the big football stadia in Jhb. It worked with old clients meeting/mixing informally with propectives ones and telling nice things about B

  2. Pressure to be able to put effectiveness on a spreadsheet has always meant that sports sponsorship is valued using nonsensically high numbers – rubbish like 30 cumulative seconds of sponsorship banners on screen equating to one TV spot. Digital has made marketers start to challenge this numberwang, and perhaps that’s impacting one of the disciplines which invented it?

  3. The decision on Boris Bikes is perhaps explained because the press has singularly failed to play the game and call them Barclay Bikes as they were supposed to. With the EPL it’s a bit more difficult because the media (and those interviewed for it) have slavishly parrotted the Barclay branding. The problem may be that the fans patently haven’t. Unlike the otherwise inestimable Mr. Jacobs I am a football fan and when I watch my team play at ‘The Emirates’ I never ever hear fans mention the brand that sponsors the competition that the team are playing in. That may be because, to all intents and purposes, the competition pre-existed the branding by a long time and that Barclays are seen as being just the latest to be hitching a ride on an already moving train. If I may be even more controversial however, it may also be that the EPL may not be quite so enamoured of Barclays as they once were, either because the image of banks has suffered badly in recent years or maybe someone else, willing to pay a lot more money, is already waiting in the wings to take over. As Deep Throat advised us – if you want to understand why anything happens, follow the money!

  4. Hi chaps

    Thanks for commenting!

    That’s a good point about the bike scheme – even if Boris was clearly in league with Diamond at the end of the day his desire to promote Boris overtook any desire to help his sponsor!

    I hadn’t thought about the fans’ view of the EPL. I guess they all know Barclays sponsor it; it’s just that they don’t really care much. I think that’s a failure of activation; I’m not sure Barclays have made the most of the sponsorship which may have something to do with it!
    Which plays to Tim’s point about using even simple things like hospitality at the matches well.
    James – yes the numbers are and have always been silly – but you would have thought that at £40m a season someone would have done a little more than some hokey 30-second-equivalent number!

  5. What are they doing with the sponsorship to “amplify” it? There is a link on their website to their #YouAreFootball twitter campaign (why “you” – it seems to be very Barclays-centric when they ask “tell us why #YouAreFootball”). The hashtag is reasonably popular although it doesn’t seem to be generating a great deal of engagement with the vast majority of people using it only using it very infrequently. Barclays are certainly tweeting the hashtag a good deal but the amount of media exposure this is generating isn’t massive! So they are making an effort with Twitter. But what else? They have a Facebook page although it isn’t massively active. The premier league website has some Barclays branding on it but doesn’t seem to be “owned” by the brand at all. Not sure what else they are doing – but perhaps if they were more proactive and invested in promoting their sponsorship more they might get more value from it.

  6. That the spnsorship is evaluate at having “Zero value” is either nonsense or they are using KPIs that were not part of the original stategy which may indicate a change in the Corporate strategy

  7. It seems someone on the board has neglected the age old brand value of being seen to be giving something ‘back to the community’ and not just focusing on the bottom line-numbers!

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